Under the terms of the coalition's draft NPPF, on which a consultation ends this month, councils would be expected to grant permission for "sustainable" development where a local plan is "absent, silent or indeterminate".
Research published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England found that 48 per cent of councils are unlikely to have an up-to-date core strategy in April, when the planning reforms are due to be implemented. The group warned that the reforms would mean that areas without local plans would be "more or less up for grabs".
Speaking on separate occasions at the Tory Party conference, both junior planning minister Bob Neill and decentralisation minister Greg Clark said that the government "will put in place" transitional arrangements to support councils without an up-to-date local plan.
Neither minister would be drawn on how these arrangements might work, but Clark told Planning that ministers are considering a range of proposals beyond simply giving councils more time to finalise plans.
Also speaking to Planning at the conference in Manchester, communities secretary Eric Pickles said that there had been a "fundamental misunderstanding" of what the coalition is trying to achieve through its planning reforms.
The communities secretary insisted that the coalition is "very close to the green groups", despite concerns raised by environmental lobby groups over the NPPF.
He said: "I think we are actually very close to the green groups. But there has been a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are intending to do [through the NPPF]. We do want to protect the green belt – while at the same time helping to support the economic growth of the countryside, and of towns and cities.
"Even in cities you can find ways of creating green spaces - just look at Manchester: it’s a big city that still has lots of green space."
Pickles also insisted that there is a huge appetite for communities and local people to get involved in planning. He said: "What I think we want is for communities to be the ones to decide what their places should look like and how many new houses should be built. Yes, they want to get involved in planning, and no, planning should not be something left to the professionals."
Friday’s print issue of Planning will contain more coverage of the transitional arrangements pledged by Clark and Neill.